Bilawal’s tribute to Shaheed Salmaan Taseer is brave but incomplete

Pakistan Peoples Party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari definitely has more guts than most Pakistani leaders, even those twice his age and in power right now. It takes some courage for a 25-year-old to own a man who his own party all but forgot – Shaheed Salmaan Taseer.

On Taseer’s birthday, Bilawal paid a heartening tribute to him, calling him a martyr and a real hero of Pakistan. Bilawal called Taseer a voice for the “downtrodden masses” and against “inhumane actions”.

But that’s not what Taseer was, and calling him that is not much of a tribute. He was the last man standing who had the courage to be the voice of the religiously oppressed Pakistani non-Muslims. That group very specifically, not the general group of downtrodden Pakistanis who suffer inhumane actions.

Bilawal’s statement is incomplete because nowhere does he mention the cause for which Taseer died – the defining factor about that man who gave the ultimate sacrifice for his belief in religious liberty. Very specifically that cause, not poverty or violence.

What Bilawal said was brave, there are no two ways about it. Those things are important to be said, and even more important to be remembered. Bilawal appears to have made that a mission, and for that he cannot be appreciated enough. There is hardly any space for liberal views in Pakistan anymore, and for Bilawal to stand on that podium and make a clear, bold statement like that is an action I would love to see other Pakistani politicians take.

But not mentioning the infamous blasphemy laws that Taseer dared to stand against, a crime he was eventually eliminated for, makes Bilawal’s words somewhat hollow. The fact that the blasphemy laws continue to exist, and that Pakistan is still reeling from the shock of the murder of a lawyer for defending a blasphemy accused professor, makes that omission all the more jarring.

What makes Taseer a hero is his valiant defence of Pakistan against Islamization and religious illiberalism. His contribution keeps becoming more and more important with each passing day, each new murder of a member of the persecuted Ahmadi community, every new forced conversion of young Hindu women, and every new attack on lands of Pakistani Christians.

To not mention blasphemy and religious freedom in words when talking about the martyrdom of Salmaan Taseer is to neuter his stature in Pakistani history. The man who championed the rights of a group few dare to support deserves more. After all, it was his refusal for neutrality that made Taseer the hero that he is. Bilawal would be well-advised to remember that. You, sir, are the sole loud voice in this deafening silence.